Sunday, December 26, 2010

Some Graphology poems from the journey

Poems and text by John, posted by Tracy

From John's journal: I've written a number of 'graphology poems' relating to our journey to Adelaide and back. I have written four or five sequences (including Poet in A Train, which Vallum editions brought out in Canada) relating to this west-east journey, but all have been from the perspective of a train passenger. Because I no longer fly, I have gone across the Nullarbor a number of times on the train over the last few years. (Obviously the train is better than the car, but there were three of us on this occasion.)

Driving across with Tracy and Tim was a very different experience. Whole different insights and interactions with place. The collective experience of engagement en famille was special and enlightening. Some of the poems I wrote during the journey were actively part of the manuscript I have been working on recently, Book 6, which comes out of an engagement with Virgil's Aeneid, Book 6, as a precursor to Dante's Divine Comedy, and my own 'distraction' on Dante's great work. But I've also written a dozen 'graphology poems' - smaller, momentary 'glimpse' pieces that fit within the fabric of the 'graphology' sequence I have been working on for the last fifteen or so years. The numbering is sequential but also arbitrary in so far as I have not written 3000 (or 4000 or 7000!) of them, as numbering at times might suggest; rather, it is to create a location canvas on which the interludes might appear. Numbers and texts seem so closely related to me, and to be bound to one kind of sequencing is to miss the point of the vitality of number 'screens'.

I also scratched or created poems in dirt and sand on the way, 'poems of dissolution' that would have vanished once the wind lifted or animals scratched at their surface. I recall one night going out into the saltbush and bluebush and ubiquitous wild oats you find fringing those small points of habitation along the highway, and listening to and watching in the moonlight hundreds of rabbits moving about. Parts of the limestone plain have become 'their' plain in so many ways. And the wedgetails which scan the ground during the day. I wrote a poem there - scratched with the point of my boot in the limestone dust, and then on the page. Might get to typing that one up.

One of the experiences that will really stick with me was driving through the length of the South Australian wheatbelt - knowing the West's wheatbelt so well, it was equally engaging and distressing to see the vast monoculture of beige and bisque and off-gold in another space, on the edge of the vast dry, though in fact it rained as we passed through. And the great yields they are getting this year as opposed to the drought-ridden minimalism of the west. The ironies are the same. My being enraptured with those ironies slightly out of kilter, a little uncanny, but feeding on the same impulses. The Goyder Line is much further north - it's the line beyond which the pastoral fails in many ways due to dryness. I was thinking of another imaginary southern line where wheat-growing fails. In the west, they keep clearing further and further out beyond wheat-growing reality, wasting scrubland for a yield every few years. Insanity. And as they clear the scrub, the rain lessens and the land erodes, and is peeled away by the winds.

Graphology 3732

Prior to departure east
an all-black black-headed monitor
swaggered — I say this in the way
young Tim imitates my walk
from behind as male habit,
when in fact my swagger comes
from watching monitors
and is, I’d like to think,
largely unconscious — swaggered
the range of the window, hunting
sand between ridge and house.
Magnificent! Then, days later
on the Bight, at 'observation
point two' we passed the first time
round, crossing over (now,
we’re talking back, and west),
a skink and a gecko on stone,
in bluebush and saltbush;
I didn’t identify them
precisely though if I think about
their gait, twist, slither,
I will come up with something.
Names, imitations. Imprints
of character.

Graphology 3735: dingo

‘Best friend’ dash,
road parsed,
ditch diver
salmon gum
goldfields blackbutt
drain where litter
might well shelter,
daylight bright
on mother’s yellow coat.
involvement: wild dog! wild dog!
feed your fear,
this side of the endless
endless fence.

Graphology 3737

true grit
historic centre
but NO
& effect.

Graphology 3738: South Australian wheatbelt bandwidth

What is wheat’s Goyder line?

Counties and hundreds,
mono beneath the hammock,

filled to the gills of the boot,
granary of foreign exchange,

returned servicemen
answering calls of nature

we see those homesteads
enveloped in opening,

at most, windbreaks
of pines, imported.

Drive from mallee
dust as dry as fallow,

lessen rust. And, sad
to say, I got excited.

John Kinsella

Monday, December 20, 2010

Crossing the Nullarbor

Posted by Tracy; photos by both of us.

The cliffs at the Great Australian Bight. These magnificent cliffs run for hundreds of kilometres along the bottom edge of Australia. East of Eucla they are called the Bunda Cliffs; in the west, the Baxter Cliffs. Together they're apparently about 400km long.

I first saw them when I was twenty and have never forgotten it. Seeing them again was even better.

There is a section of the Nullarbor where the cliffs run inland, forming the edge of the Hampton Tableland; below it are the Roe Plains. This photo, taken at Madura Pass, looks out to the Roe Plains from up on the Tableland. Madura Pass is one of the highlights of the journey.

I wish I had taken a photo of the moonlit Nullarbor, achingly beautiful -- it makes you want to lie flat on your back on the ground and just stare at the sky.

There's a detailed book about the Nullarbor by Neville Collins, The Nullarbor Plain: A History, including many striking photographs. It surveys the region's Aboriginal history as well as colonial incursions, and has other sections covering everything from flora and fauna through UFO claims, hoaxes, space debris (Skylab fell near Balladonia, on the western edge of the Nullarbor, in 1979), to meteorite finds and nuclear testing. Collins was born at Ceduna in South Australia, to the east of the Plain.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Musselwhite Extract #2: Tess

By Tracy

This is from David Musselwhite's 2003 book, Social Transformations in Hardy's Tragic Novels: Megamachines and Phantasms.

... in Tess, Hardy seems to be working with a wholly new conception of what is entailed in the 'construction' of a 'character' or of a 'consciousness' -- a conception that finds parallels in the psychoanalytical notion of the phantasm where the human becomes human -- acquires character and consciousness -- when the accumulated and consorted bruit or dit -- the lore -- of the tradition or the culture becomes accreted around and inscribed on the blank surface of the physiological body...

...In a sense what Tess becomes is a kind of 'phenomenological palimpsest' -- or, to recall another favourite image of Freud for the unconsciousness, a 'magic writing block' -- of all that she unconsciously registers of what has been said or thought about her, of all that has anticipated and been brought to bear upon her, of all the phantasmatic events that she has passed through. What this means is that Tess becomes something like an 'expressive digest', or 'phenomenological prism' of the world into which she has been born -- a world not just of material conditions but of a host of pre-existing roles, attributes and singularities. I think this accords well, in fact, with what we sense of her luminous presence. Much has been made of Tess as the object of voyeuristic fantasy but much less has been said of the degree to which we see the world through her. Indeed at times in the course of the text Tess seems to function like an 'expressive cursor' or like one of those ruler magnifying glasses that come with miniaturised editions of the Complete Oxford Dictionary. (p. 117)

Even in this glimpse of only one chapter* of Social Transformations..., we can see David's typical ability to think things through from an "opposite" angle, to consider Tess as see-r and not just seen; and the outlandish but exact and just image of something unexpected (Tess as a dictionary-accessory!). The theoretical underpinnings of the book, again in Deleuze and Guattari but even more extensively in Laplanche and Pontalis's work on the "phantasm" are too complex to paraphrase here -- so I urge anyone interested to get hold of Social Transformations for themselves.

*There are actually two chapters on Tess in this book. The other novels studied are The Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude the Obscure (also two chapters) and The Well-Beloved.

Musselwhite Extract #1: The Monster

By Tracy

Today would have been David Musselwhite's 70th birthday (he passed away in February this year). In our writers' group today we read an Emily Brontë poem he particularly admired. Now in honour and memory of David, I want to redirect people to his marvellous books, beginning with 1987's Partings Welded Together: Politics and Desire in the Nineteenth-Century English Novel.

In this book there are wonderful chapters on Austen, Brontë, Thackeray and Dickens, but for me most strikingly of all on Mary Shelley. Here's a characteristic quote from "Frankenstein: The Making of a Monster":

...the Monster confounds all classifications and identifications: it is alive and dead, male and female, master and slave, pursued and pursuer, parent and child -- all at once. Rather than allowing itself to be located in a system of classification what the Monster embodies is a radical dispersal of roles and states and a nomadic roaming across and between them. The Monster is always ahead or behind, always elsewhere, ever in a condition of migratory adjacency. Moreover the tracery of these migrations, like the scars on its body, are not the investments of limits but the openings of boundaries, the splitting of ever new laminations, the establishment of ever fresh surfaces. The Monster's wounds are not the evidence of a history but the sensitized possibility of a beginning. Or, rather, it is because there has been a history that there can be a beginning -- just as there can be identity because there is difference, or thought because there is language. One does not begin with the punctuality of a birth but the reappropriation of a scattered genesis. One begins, that is, with repetition. (pp. 69-70)

The chapter on Emily Brontë is also original, inventive and memorable -- in one of David's obituaries, UK academic Gary Day said,

"I've yet to read a better interpretation of Wuthering Heights. For my money, [David] was the best reader of literature we've had in the past 25 years."

In the book's appendix there is an extremely useful entrée to the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari, included to provide background for the way David's book draws on their work. With regard to his theoretical bases, David wrote in the introduction,

"... I have endeavoured as much to let Austen, Shelley, Brontë and the rest read Derrida, Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari as the other way around. I also happen to think that is the right way to go about things."

David was always one for the closest attention to the text, and used to joke, despite his affinities with post-structuralism, about having been a student at the "last lectures of Leavis", a legacy not easily shaken off in its best aspects.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ludwig Steinherr

By Tracy

I've just been reading a striking and unforgettable collection of poetry by Ludwig Steinherr. It's a bilingual (German/English) edition selected from ten of his books, and it's published by Arc under the title Before the Invention of Paradise. Translations, deft, apparently simple (though much work has gone into them) and impressive, are by Richard Dove.

The poems are mostly sparse and short and take my breath away. They remind me just how powerful and productive the tension between statement and understatement can be. Steinherr knows exactly when to say, and when to say no more. He really does work in the

... language-quarries
where silence
blasted open with explosive
hits us with the full force
of its very first

("To the Sculptor Josef. A Henselmann")

[... Sprachbrüche
wo das aufgesprengte
Schweigen uns trifft
mit der ganzen Wucht
seiner allerersten

I meant only to dip in and read the odd poem, having other tasks to do tonight, but I haven't been able to stop.

The book, part of the Arc Visible Poets series, has an introduction by the series editor Jean Boase-Beier as well as a translator's preface, so there is plenty of context and background on the process of the book's emergence.

(Now I want to go back and get the individual titles from which these poems were selected...)

More about Facebook et al.

By Tracy

Further to my blog post of the other day, The West Australian today reports that social media like Facebook are "causing people to become increasingly anxious as users feel pressured to be constantly connected", according to an Australian survey.

I find it interesting to note that the student cited in the article (Nikkita Venville) had fought her "addiction" (my term, not hers) to the point of getting someone to change her password (then hacking back in to access it!) and even more, that she felt she was being left out by her "friends" when she wasn't on Facebook, which is exactly the phenomenon I mentioned in my post.

"I did feel like a bit of my social life had (gone) because I couldn't keep in contact with the people I usually kept in contact with - and I didn't know what was going on," she said.

"People were saying haven't you got my Facebook message instead of calling me up to invite me (to parties)..."

Well, I'm not worried about the "parties" -- but the cutting-off from non-users is a sad reality.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


By Tracy

I am working on translating a very long Rilke poem -- it will be ages before it's finished.

In the meantime I did some little short poems -- this is just a quick draft, which I may not go back to for a while now that I'm entrenched in the longer one. It's not even re-checked, so this is "in process"!

(There seems to be a general view just now that Rilke is too-translated into English... too bad.)

Rainer Maria Rilke

[I am, you anxious one. Don’t you hear me]

I am, you anxious one. Don’t you hear me
breaking against you with all my senses?
My feelings, which found wings,
circle your face whitely.
Don’t you see my soul, how it stands
close before you in a coat of silence?
Doesn’t my May-like prayer ripen
at your glances as upon a tree?

If you are the dreamer, I am your dream.
But if you desire to wake, I’m your desire
growing powerful in all splendour
rounding out like the silence of a star
over the strange city of time.


I love Jo Shapcott's book of versions in dialogue with Rilke (actually with his French poems) -- it's called Tender Taxes. The French poems are in a very different mode from the German ones but (I think) equally amazing.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

We don't want Facebook

By Tracy

I came across a page on Facebook (no, I don't use Facebook, it was something I stumbled across via a search engine) that reproduces a Wikipedia entry (full of inaccuracies anyway) on John, and thereby bears his name.

John loathes Facebook for what it does (me too -- can't stand the utter breakdown of privacy it involves -- not to mention the fact [this bit is me, Tracy, not John] that Facebook addicts cut you off in real life if you're not in their Facebookworld! -- I am excommunicated by those for whom it's too much effort to step outside Facebook for a moment!) and is surprised and irritated that this Facebook page bearing his name should exist. (It reminds me of the line from John Forbes -- "even if we don't choose to join you, we do". Well, we don't.)

John also loathes mobile phones. Are we the only people who don't have them? I hope not. They too are an addiction, and they are environmentally damaging as well as a risk to health.

Some Facebook and mobile phone addicts think it's about snobbery, not deigning to be part of something because it's perceived as "too popular" and therefore uncool. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the case of mobile phones (and other wireless equipment) it's about being conscious of EMR. In the case of Facebook, it's because we don't need it, and because we have a stronger sense of privacy than it allows.

By the way, we managed to keep in touch with others, not get lost, and know where our children were, long before these things became the "norm".

Thursday, November 25, 2010

For Vek and Timo

Poem written by John, posted by Tracy

This is to celebrate and mark the recent marriage of my (Tracy's) brother Vek and his partner Timo. They were married in Mexico City; Australia does not yet recognise or perform same-sex marriages, and Timo is from Mexico.

Vek points out that there are dimensions to this issue often not discussed, particularly pertaining to immigration rights, which he might like to pick up on in our comments section...?

We support Vek and Timo in every step of the struggle they are facing, and in all their happiness too.

So here's John's poem in celebration of their marriage.

Graphology 3725: an epi-epithalamium for Vek and Timo

May your marriage anneal plains and mountains and high air,
heal populations, open doors where all might locate, declare

grit and sinew and energise words: love is where
we might locate despair, and where despair

might lose its grip within us: it’s a turning
inside out, melodic shout of a burning,

spectral bird. The day of marriage
makes its own rituals against prisons, cage

opening, not closing: the liberation of bee
worlds and ant worlds and those models we

worship, follow, indict; no, no, you’ll translate
until ‘translation’ is forgotten, a liberation: rate

the vow your home, your celebration.
See, I will listen. See, I will be there. No ocean

cleaves intuition, no valleys or plateaus divide you.
Myth speaks a common language, and the body

shares consonants: let light link a communication
outside electronics: its own satellite, its own creation.

John Kinsella

Sunday, November 14, 2010

From this dry place...

A poem by John Kinsella, posted here by Tracy


a rebuke for Julia Gillard, Piers Akerman, Peter Coleman et al.

‘Look, cranes still know their path through empty air;
For them their world is neither soon nor late;
But ours is eaten hollow with despair.’

James McAuley, ‘The Tomb of Heracles’

Restart of the fire season:
a mushroom cloud on the first
horizon — the penultimate —
an edge not far enough for
comfort. From his fire-tower

my great-grandfather scanned
the sea of trees for that wisp:
that leader, sign you can never
over-read. I went to that tower
as a child and did the same.

I barely remember. Maybe
he was already dead. I’ve been
talking fire all day long: poets
writing it, neighbours discussing
the risks, all our preparedness.

The firebreaks are done.
Scraped and scraped again,
looking for that second layer,
that second safer layer.
It never reveals itself.

Mostly, it’s the smell: weird
sign of noses cocked to the air,
like some unwholesome fetish.
It’s so dry that ‘dust to dust’
would seem our mantra.

But it’s not. ‘Fire to fire’,
‘fire to fire’ is all we utter
when the water-tanks are low
and flood (should we be smitten)
could only fill the valley

enough to lap at the foot
of this block. But here they
reference conflagration
by stating war is necessary
in another place (we’re not far

from an army camp), to make
our place. There’s not a drop
of water left on the block
but still a white-faced heron
loops in, surveys, lifting

back to reconnaissance.
Maybe I’d be excused
thinking it a profit, sign
in a secular world, expression
of divine intervention and polity?

We cover ourselves from head
to toe — Tracy’s dad is being
eaten by melanomas. To sing
the ‘sunburnt country’
doesn’t really work for him.

In the death of adrenaline,
a vacuum makes its own contexts:
the stony ground, a harsh wind
that cuts hot and cold. Who quotes
and speaks our heroisms:

our world is theirs, bird
or human, and each year
fewer trees make it through, more
of us die at the edges, the centres.
‘Fire-fight’ the default setting.

John Kinsella

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rain: need I say more?

By Tracy

It's raining at Jam Tree Gully. Cause for celebration. Let's hope it lasts.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Play against racism

Posted by Tracy

This is a little play John wrote for a group of us (i.e. writers) who meet every so often -- expressing his anger and bemusement at the racism focussed in Northam at the moment.

If anyone ever wants to use it, they are welcome.

The Gathering: a half-act play for six players

by John Kinsella

Players 1-6 are seated in something approximating a circle. A small room. Maybe an office, but could be a work crib room, a shed, or any other confined space. The players are without identifying characteristics. The allotment of player identities among the group of actors is ascertained in as arbitrary a way as possible. They stand when they speak, otherwise remain seated. In the background, Dvorák’s New World Symphony is playing quietly.

Player 1

Sine qua non.

Player 2

Veni, vidi, vici.

Player 1

Bellum omnium contra omnes.

Player 3

Alea iacta est.

Player 2

E Pluribus Unum.

Player 3

O di immortales!

Player 5

And so say all of us.

Player 6

Not quite. Shelley quotes the correspondence of Voltaire at the beginning of Queen Mab: ‘Ecrasez l’infame!’

Player 1

And Lucretius.

Player 4

What about Lucretius? By whose authority?

Player 1

Six lines. Too many for me to recite. My Latin is shaky.

Player 2

I love that line from Mab: ‘The chains of earth’s immurement...’

Player 6

You need to be wary of propaganda in an environment of privilege and learning.

Player 4

Too true, brother [or sister], too true.

Player 5

I made a rhyme today:

They place refugees in hot places.
Hot places cast faces on 'races'.

Player 2

Not much of a rhyme, that. All the same, disturbing.

Player 5

Then how about:

Inland they make a stand.

That’s a single line with an internal rhyme.

Player 2

Who makes the stand?

Player 5

I am not much of a critic.

Player 1

Power to the people...

Player 4

That’s copyright. Do you have any idea of the cost behind a cliché? The legal ramifications of specifics.

Player 3

Surely it’s just populism. No price on that!

Player 2

Too right there is. I’ve worked hard.

Player 3

For whom? For us?

Player 2

Too right. I’ve worked hard.

Player 1

Some bloke is cruising around town calling the old army camp a sacred site. A couple of sporty-looking women have ‘bomb the boats and ‘sink the boats’ on their bright red t-shirts.

Player 4

And the wheat is about to be harvested.

Player 2

And the wheat is about to be harvested. I’ve worked hard.

Player 1

What would Cicero have said on the floor of...

Player 3


Player 5

or some other player. Not just Cicero? How about one of his cronies? A fly-in fly-out rouser of rights? Pick a name, any name.

Player 1

Quid pro quo.

Player 4

Primus inter pares.

Player 3

Goodnight. Sleep tight. New world orders have to be processed.

Player 2

Not in my backyard. I’ve worked hard, hard, hard!

Player 1

Acte est fabula, plaudite.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Northam and refugees

Typed in by Tracy, as stated by John

We were in Northam today, our regional centre, where we do most of our shopping, other than what we are able to do in our immediate, much smaller town. One of our kids went to high school there, because it's the only Senior High in the region. Northam is the centre of the Avon Valley wheatbelt region in which we live.

It was disgusting to see a bloke arrive in town with his tray-top bedecked with large painted panels carrying maps of Australia with diatribes of racial vilification. Without going into the details, suffice it to say that there was a representation of a figure in a hijab with a line drawn through it, bearing the word "parasite", and referring to the Northam Army Base, intended site of a refugee detention centre, as "our sacred site" (meaning of the military). The ironies and insensitivities behind the use of this phrase are obvious.

I managed to control myself and not call out, "You racist bastard". But I feel it essential I articulate my opposition to the mass racism taking place in Northam and surrounding region at the moment. It was doubly disturbing to see bigots drive past this bloke in their utes, giving him the thumbs-up.

On top of this is the irony that Northam has a long history as a migration centre. But the racists are busy differentiating between the European migrants after the Second World War and the Afghan refugees who have left the country which those very same bigots are more than happy to insist needs the Australian military to be waging war against oppressive political elements.

My concern is with the fact that these refugees have to be kept in detention at all. It would seem a far more humane approach to treat them as migrants awaiting confirmation of their status, rather than as prisoners in a concentration camp.

In country that was stolen from the Nyungar people, it is bizarre that the non-indigenous residents feel they have a claim to this land through eternity.

During the 1890s, my great-grandfather, who was foreman of the South Champion mine at Kookynie, was dying of thirst in the desert when he was saved by an Afghan camel driver. Anyone with any knowledge of Western Australian history will know that Afghan people have had a long and important relationship with this place. But even if that were not the case, we are all humans, and all humans should be treated with dignity and respect.

It is many years since I and my fellow activists were involved in resisting the anti-Asian racism campaigns of Jack Van Tongeren and his ultra-nationalist cronies. But today, seeing those signs in Northam made me feel as if we have not progressed, not gone any further forward at all. Western Australia still reeks of racism.

John Kinsella

Friday, October 29, 2010

Making seitan (gluten)

By Tracy

Seitan* is wheat protein, malleable and versatile – you can slice and fry or grill it, cut into chunks or cubes and add anywhere you would add other proteins – with pasta or in curries. We like it in browned slices with mashed potato, vegan gravy (Massel does a vegan gravy powder, for example) and veggies.

It's made up from a dried protein staple (gluten flour) that will keep for ages in the cupboard. It's simple to prepare, as long as you have at least an hour before you want to use it.

You need: gluten flour (try the breadmaking section of your supermarket), plain wheat flour, water, veggie stock/soy sauce for simmering, and any condiments you want to flavour it. (I used a third of a cup of nutritional yeast, added to dry ingredients before mixing; you can also add onion powder or any spices you like.)

You need a large pasta-type pot or big saucepan, which you’ll fill with 4-5 litres of water, adding the veggie stock and/or soy sauce, and bring to the boil.

Stir together two cups gluten flour to one cup plain flour in a large bowl. Quickly add just over a cup of water, and turn till it forms a ball of dough (not too sticky, or you won’t be able to get it off your hands!).

Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead to remove air bubbles or any pockets of still-dry flour.

Divide into three or four chunks. When your stock has come up to the boil, add the chunks and turn down to simmer (lightly bubbling will do) for one hour.

Don’t add the chunks before the stock has reached the boil, or they will turn out too fluffy and porous.

Once cooked, drained and cooled, the gluten will have a firm, sliceable texture.

The best seitan/gluten dish I’ve ever tried is the roast on Beverley the Vegan Chef’s site. It takes a little more preparation than the simmered style, but is well worth it.

(*Seitan is one name given to one style of gluten; my recipe is a rough approximation of the idea.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tim's Tapioca

By Tracy

Tim's had a sore throat, and so requested this smooth and soft pudding which he loves at any time...


1 cup seed tapioca
4 cups soy milk
1 cup sugar or other sweetener
1 tsp vanilla essence

Soak the dry tapioca in the soy milk for an hour or more.

Add vanilla essence. Bring mixture gently to the boil. (If it's too fast, the mixture will catch and burn on the bottom of the saucepan.)

Simmer till the tapioca looks clear, or mostly clear. (If the tapioca is still opaque, it will be hard and gritty.)

Remove and stir the sugar through it, then pour into bowl.

You can eat this hot (runny) or let it chill (sets into a jelly-like texture).

There are lots of other things you can do with tapioca (and sago) but this is one very simple vegan option. Serve alone, or with soy icecream, vegan cream, fruit, coconut cream... etc.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Our dwindling bushland

By Tracy

The West Australian reported a few days ago that according to WWF Australia, over the past eight years, bushland "has been cleared around Perth at an average rate of 10 WACA stadiums a week". (6812 ha of bush between 2001 and 2009.)

You can read the full article here. It's already very obvious just from looking around -- so many housing developments where bush used to be -- but it's still devastating to read such a confirmation.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Vegan chocolate layer cake

By Tracy

I made this today to welcome in John and John A. who were cutting the grass all day, to get it down before deadline (fire safety). 6 steep acres with many large and small rocks. It's mostly wild oats, with some wild barley (apparently harder to cut than the oats).

Anyway, because the cake turned out a little lopsided, Tim and I had to sample it first to make it look more symmetrical...


For cake:
2 cups SR flour
1 scant cup sugar
1.25 cups soy milk
4 dessertspoons cocoa
3 tsp egg replacer (made up with about 2 dsp water)
1 tsp vanilla essence

Sift flour, sugar and cocoa into large bowl. Mix egg replacer with the water till fluffy, add to bowl; add oil and vanilla essence, and use beater to add soy milk little by little until the consistency is of a good thick batter.

Pour into greased (Nuttelexed!) and floured cake tin, bake at 180 deg C for 45-50 min, depending on your oven.

2 cups icing sugar
3 dessertspoons cocoa
1 dessertspoon Nuttelex or other vegan margarine
splash of soy milk as needed

Sift icing sugar and cocoa into bowl, fold together briefly. Add the Nuttelex, and little by little add small amounts of soy (very little) as you beat (electric beater does this more easily). If you're too hasty or heavy with the soy milk, the icing will be runny.

To make up: Halve cake horizontally with large knife; fill with half icing and put halves together, then ice the outside. While the icing is still unset, you can grate vegan chocolate over it as I did this time.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Vegan article

By Tracy

The Herald this weekend has a rare article on veganism (albeit not quite, since the featured author cooks vegan some of the time but is not actually vegan).

Still, it's not often it even gets a mention, and a fairly positive one.

Friday, October 8, 2010

New novelist

By Tracy

I've just finished reading Saraswati Park by debut novelist Anjali Joseph (born 1978).

This was a birthday gift, nothing to do with my studies, except of course that it's a novel -- so I read it for pleasure.

It's a quiet novel whose atmosphere certainly drew me in, though I was disappointed that the back-cover blurb tells practically the whole plot (such plot as there is -- this is a mood-driven and character-driven book).

Middle-aged Mohan, a letter-writer, lives in reasonable comfort and calm with his wife Lakshmi in Bombay/Mumbai. They are at that stage where children have left home and an uneasy distance has crept up between husband and wife, though it takes a while for Mohan to realise this.

Their nephew Ashish comes to live with them because though his parents have moved away on account of work, Ashish must repeat his final year of college because of under-attendance.

Ashish has his own emotional (and sexual) life unknown to his uncle and aunt; the novel moves between his story and that of his uncle's marriage and daily life.

The writing is poised and observant, the characters credible -- and for a first novel, it's quite subtle and sophisticated in approach.

If you don't like very slow-paced or middle-class-style fiction, it won't be your thing. Ignore the back cover if you want to make the most of its developments...

The UK's Telegraph listed Anjali Joseph as one of their "20 best novelists under 40", for what that kind of list is worth.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Holding-pattern post

By Tracy

I'm conscious of not having posted for ages. I've been very busy with PhD work for one thing.

Recently read or still reading: Gillian Mears, The Mint Lawn, Patricia Highsmith, Deep Water, Mary McCarthy, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (this one I haven't finished yet).

The Gillian Mears novel was very well-written but disturbing in its protagonist/narrator's apparent lack of compassion or generosity toward other people. The Highsmith was ok: not her absolute best, but it had its moments.

The McCarthy is elegantly written but pushing the limits of credibility. She does address this by having after-comments in each section, noting where other people's memories or her own doubts contest what she had written earlier. But the "agonies" of the childhood period seem very overplayed. (Still, I'll eventually finish it.)

I also squeezed in Simenon's The Little Man from Archangel, which was (to my mind) faultless. (John thought it was the best book of existential angst -- better than Sartre's Nausea or Camus's The Fall -- though acknowledging Simenon was not an existentialist in their sense.)

For my part, no Simenon novel has ever disappointed me yet.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Review of Honey Spot

Posted by Tracy

(This is a review of a recent production John originally wrote for a newspaper but it didn't end up being used because it was filed at the end of the production's run.)

This warm play of reconciliation from 1985, written by Jack Davis for younger and older audiences, was energetically staged by the Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company (Perth) under Kyle J. Morrison’s direction.

Davis was able to treat serious themes without didacticism. In Honey Spot, a 12-year-old Wadjela (“whitefella”) girl and a 13-year-old Noongar boy find friendship and creative affirmation in W.A.’s south-west forests.

The play is adept at touching on all potential issues of appropriation and disrespect without ever compromising the integrity of Noongar culture.

Peggy (Katya Shevtsov), and Tim (Ian Wilkes), develop common expression through dance, combining European ballet moves with Noongar corroboree dance. They brought a liveliness and energy to their interaction that rippled through the audience.

Lynette Narkle as Mrs Winalli, Tim’s mother, was a guiding light, while Peggy’s father, the forest ranger, forced to confront his own racism, was ably depicted by George Shevtsov.

But the finest moments came with Phillip Walley-Stack’s turn as the resistant, confrontational William, Tim’s cousin, underscoring seriousness with humour and verve.

Tristen Parr’s music, using cello played by Emma McCoy and didgeridoo mainly from Walley-Stack, skilfully ranged from subtle to bold. Dance, music and drama merged with ease.

Fluid scene-changing through the actors moving in and out of the circular performance area was especially effective. Keeping it simple was key.

Davis’s plea for Wadjelas to engage in genuine listening conversation and respect for Noongar language and naming persists long after the show is over.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Activist Poetics

By Tracy

John's got a new book out: Activist Poetics: Anarchy in the Avon Valley.

It's a collection of his essays edited and with an introduction by Niall Lucy.

John Kerrigan on the back cover describes it as an "exhilarating constellation of interview, essay, polemic, lecture, memoir, apologia and verse".

The book is published by Liverpool University Press and you can read more about it here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wheatbelt full moon

By Tracy

A few hours before lunar eclipse a couple of days ago...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Trying something new

By Tracy

Last week I heard novelist and musician Willy Vlautin talking on the radio from the Sydney Writers' Festival, and decided to try one of his books.

I wanted to partly because I get tired of novels limited to privileged or middle-class characters, and he's more interested in what reviewers keep calling "the dispossessed".

He's published three novels -- Planet Books only had two of them. I wasn't that interested in the new one, Lean on Pete, because of the horse-racing motif, so instead I chose his second, Northline (Faber and Faber, 2008).

It's a fast read. At first I found it quite annoying -- too much dialogue, phrasing too staccato for me, and the sense that the so-called "low-life" aspect is self-consciously on display for the reader. I couldn't tell if it was simply over-edited, stylistically, or if it was running on the assumption that people can only read very, very pared-back flat language. Some great writers of course have used a simple approach to style, but here it's frequently clunky, stilted.

Yet I kept reading, and it grew on me a little: there's a strong sense of compassion in the novel, and although it veers into being too sentimental (the Paul Newman fantasy-sequences, for one), it does leave you with a distinct feeling of atmosphere and some memorable characters.

Not the protagonist, however -- Allison -- who seems, perhaps intentionally, little more than an outline. It's the people who befriend her on her desperate downer -- like Penny, who trains her in phone sales, and Dan, a trauma survivor -- that seem vivid and durable creations.

The story is set in Las Vegas and Reno, among the drinkers, gamblers and workers of those places (Vlautin comes from Reno, according to the radio interview, though he now lives in Oregon).

He's singer-songwriter with the band Richmond-Fontaine, and there's a soundtrack for the book too.

All in all a bit disappointing -- certainly not the new Steinbeck or Carver that publicity led me to expect -- but still not a bad read.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Stendhal's heirs (2)

By Tracy

I recently finished Theodore Dreiser's monumental novel An American Tragedy (1925). I'm not the first by any means to notice its indebtedness to Stendhal's The Red and the Black, though the two novels are also extremely different. I was reading it as part of the "parvenu" or "upstart" thematic list I've set myself.

The protagonist (anti-hero rather than hero) is Clyde Griffiths, a young man raised in poverty and relative ignorance by well-meaning street preachers. Clyde has a longing for a better life in every material sense, and a sensual nature he has difficulty controlling.

Taken into employment at his rich uncle's factory, Clyde finds himself in a social no-man's-land: forbidden to mix with the women workers he supervises, but too lowly for acceptance among his uncle's set. Good-looking and sartorially-minded, he attracts the attention of wealthy young Sondra, but not before he has entangled himself -- compromisingly -- with Roberta, whom he now wishes to be rid of.

The story echoes Stendhal's only in its outlines -- the pride and social ambition realised through a woman's love and attentions, the abandonment of an earlier love -- the crime and trial and the question of capital punishment.

What's more, Dreiser took his plot from a real-life news item, as did Stendhal in his own time, so that both were to some degree fictionalising fact... although to say only that is to misrepresent the phenomenal fictional achievement of both authors.

Dreiser's novel is much less readable than Stendhal's. There were many passages I had to force myself to read simply because of over-telling. Dreiser seems to think he has to state something, then state it again, then re-examine for other ways of stating it. For a modern reader this is excruciating -- but it's not just a matter of being stylistically dated -- plenty of novels of similar age are more readable. It seems to be a deliberate stylistic choice, his own kind of realism.

Most credible critics seem to agree it's a masterpiece, but a flawed one.

Film-makers have made several attempts at it. The only one I've seen is George Stevens's A Place in the Sun (1951), with Montgomery Clift in the lead role (character names are all different, and half the story is missing, but film adaptations have to do that sometimes). A very young Elizabeth Taylor plays the rich love interest, and Shelley Winters the cast-off working-class girlfriend. The film is highly watchable and very disturbing.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Beat that My Heart Skipped

By Tracy

I watched this film recently for the third or fourth time because -- despite an unsatisfying ending -- it has a lot to offer. (In French its title is De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté, made in 2005.) It's apparently a remake of an American film, Fingers (1978), which I've never seen.

Like many of the 'parvenu' narratives,  it's another story in which the protagonist's two worlds clash, but here the two worlds are more about modes of living than exactly class, though that's not unconnected...

'Thomas' (Romain Duris, excellent in the role) is a young man whose now-deceased mother was a concert pianist. His father, still very much in the picture, is a moneyed thug, and Tom has followed him into a life of violence and brutality in shady real estate dealing. 

Tom is not a likeable character, and the film sets this out very clearly. Yet when he glimpses the possibility of changing direction -- becoming a pianist like his mother -- you can't help identifying with him and hoping he will come good through music. There's a strong feeling of potential sensitivity and power of expression barely contained in this taciturn and often sullen individual.

But it's never that easy to switch tracks, and the patterns and entanglements of the life Tom has led till now pose a dramatic challenge to his 'ambition'. Violence is not easily left behind...

The last section of the movie (to me) feels tacked-on, but the rest of it is still worth watching. I have also caught part of an earlier movie by the same director, Read My Lips (Sur mes lèvres, 2001), that had me on the edge of my seat -- again, a clash-of-two-worlds story -- but I've not managed to get a copy so as to watch the parts I missed. 

The director, Jacques Audiard, has also made the more recent film A Prophet (Un prophète, 2009), which I missed at the cinema -- will have to watch out for the DVD.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Morning views near Jam Tree Gully

By Tracy

This is where I walk Tim to the school bus in the mornings. It's hard to capture the depth, the distance of those hills...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Stendhal's heirs (1)

By Tracy

Stendhal's literary influence on subsequent writers is huge, so theoretically this topic could go on forever.

What interests me at the moment is the way so many narratives have picked up on the motifs of The Red and the Black and re-worked them into such different and often compelling stories, or films.

Julien is the paradigmatic upstart whose destiny is crime. I haven't read John Braine's novel Room at the Top, but I have seen the film -- first many years ago in Britain, and then again recently (VHS from Planet, almost the only place you'd find it in Perth!).

Room at the Top follows Joe Lampton as he attempts to make his way up in society. Joe has little in common with Stendhal's Julien except perhaps his youth, his humble origins, his ambition -- and the fact that he loves an older woman but pursues a young woman who's the daughter of a rich and socially important man.

What goes wrong as a result of this conflict is not quite in the vein of Julien's criminal trajectory, and the endings differ accordingly (I don't like spoilers, so that's as much as I'll say!).

But the story shows a clear inheritance from Stendhal's plot, transposed to 20th-century Britain and a different set of class circumstances, with many of the same mistakes and emotions.

It's a finely watchable movie with a poignant performance from Simone Signoret as the older woman and an appropriate cold, callous manner from Laurence Harvey as Joe Lampton.

Apparently a t.v. series based on the character of Joe Lampton, Man at the Top, also written by John Braine but set after the movie narrative's end, was screened in Britain some decades ago (thanks to G. for this info).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Remembering David

By Tracy

Here is the link to the obituary I wrote for my friend and former teacher, David Musselwhite, who died in February this year.

David dedicated his first book, Partings Welded Together, "For my parents. All of them."

For me, intellectually and emotionally, he was certainly one of my "parents". I think this was true for many others too.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lionel's latest

By Tracy

Now onto Lionel Shriver's newest novel, So Much For That.

I was offered to choose a book as a gift the other day, and couldn't help myself. This one is for leisure, not for study, so it will have to be a slower read. (Leisure?)

It's essentially a book about the US healthcare system, and if I hadn't had first-hand experience of that, it might have lost me already, because it's rather reliant on long mouthpiece speeches.

And though I've appreciated most of the other Shriver novels I've read, I would class my most recent experience of her work, an early book called Game Control, as one of the worst novels I've ever read.

In this latest, there are the usual wonderful moments of clarity and perception of human foibles; unfortunately these turn all too quickly into harping on human foibles -- there's a bleak hard edge in her writing that's sometimes hard to bear.

There's also a kind of "book-club" topicality that I find irritating (certain subjects are just always going to get an airing with the book-buying public).

That's not a hit at book clubs, just an observation that you can sometimes feel how writers cynically aim at a niche.

However, in this case Shriver is also writing from experience of a friend's terminal illness, and it's not just a "topic" for her.

Why do I keep reading her, when she keeps making me so uncomfortable? I don't want merely to feel comfortable when I read -- and she steers clear of the sentimental. But she can also steer right into the grotesque... as when one of her male characters goes in for a botched "enlargement" operation. (Well, she is dealing with the medical system in this novel...) 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pondering the parvenu

By Tracy

So I finished Piers Paul Read's The Upstart, and while it was mostly compelling, the wrap-up was ridiculous, perhaps deliberate bathos.

I won't go into it here, in order to avoid spoilers. But the story was "resolved" in a way that only a religious writer who wanted to get his "moral" in could do it.

Now I'm aware that he built in lots of ironies so as not to make it too pat; that the dénouement is more than half tongue-in-cheek. But it's also not, and you can't have it both ways.

In sum, I expected something more outlandish from a mostly outlandish book. The challenge, for the writer, was always going to be in the ending. You could argue that the "happy outcome" is the very anguish, is the punishment, that the protagonist deserves. But that's too easy. The book is unforgettable yet doesn't satisfy.

Saying more would ruin the experience for anyone who hasn't read it yet...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Starting The Upstart

By Tracy

I've never read any Piers Paul Read before, though I've been aware of him since my teens when I bought a cheap copy of Martin Seymour-Smith's Novels and Novelists (a guide I still sometimes dip into, nearly 20 years later, even though by now it's missing many later writers!).

I've begun Read's novel The Upstart (1973) because it fits into a narrative pattern I'm studying -- of the parvenu who is (self- or socially?)-driven to crime or transgression -- but it's unlike anything I've read before, except perhaps obliquely the bizarre, compelling short novel from 1970 by Muriel Spark called The Driver's Seat. (The memory of that one still makes my spine tingle. How surprising books can be. I think, though, that it has very different aims from those of The Upstart. But I haven't finished reading that.)

PP Read is disturbing -- the content is often misogynistic and homophobic, but then that content is placed in the mouth of a very unreliable narrator... and you don't realise he is so until quite well into the book. Like Spark, Read is a Catholic and to some degree this sits with the right-wing odour that pervades Read's book. (Not all Catholics are exactly right-wing, of course. I say that as one brought up Catholic myself, though long since "lapsed".) I don't like his politics but am aiming to read a wide selection of narratives with this kind of theme, so he's on my list.

To put it colloquially, this book messes with your head. Nasty but arresting, startling, and well-written. I will report again when it's finished.

Bad, Botched Brel (but still...)

By Tracy

Smitten as ever with le grand Jacques, but rarely getting time to listen these days, I finally succumbed and borrowed the DVD of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris from Planet Video in Mount Lawley last week.

Can’t say I wasn’t warned – apart from a few fanatics who must be tone-deaf or very tolerant, almost every online review I read had stressed how awful the film was.

It’s not Brel singing – though he does make a brief appearance to sing Ne me quitte pas at one point in the film. It’s the filmed version of a stage show built around translations – sometimes complete makeovers – of a clutch of Brel’s songs into (American) English.

We saw the Perth version of this stage show, minus some of the numbers, two years ago, with much better singers and far greater dynamism – a production to mark the 30th anniversary of Brel’s death. It did, however, downplay the politics and was more about pure entertainment. The original play dates from 1968 and even in the later film you can see many of the political and social concerns of that time being alluded to or openly referenced in the way the set of songs has been stitched together.

Some of the translations are quite good, or at least quite in keeping with the spirit of the Brelien universe. Some are weak.

The film dates from 1975 and feels at least as dated as that, or more. It’s as if the filmmaker was trying to cross Godspell with Hair  and Rocky Horror, and run it through the sieve of a chaotic Andy Warhol production.

That on its own wouldn’t bother me – chaos being okay to some degree, and representative of what they were trying to say about the world.

But the voices of the singers in this film version were unbearable to me. And I don’t think it’s just the inevitable mental comparison with Brel himself – Elly Stone is simply too shrill for my liking, and the others watery and wobbly. (I did find Stone's rendition of Marieke quite moving, but I suspect it was the translation and the melody itself. Here is Brel's.) Voice styles change, go in and out of fashion – some seem to transcend that, as Brel's does, but not these. I tried just watching the versions of my own favourite songs, but it was painful.

Still, I put myself through it. And survived to tell the tale. One for desperate fans only (if then). 



Thursday, March 11, 2010

Launch of Niall Lucy's Pomo Oz

Posted by Tracy

This is the text of the speech John gave in abridged form at last night's launch, held at Planet Books in Mount Lawley. (It was John's first venture out in months due to ill health.)

Niall's book is published by Fremantle Press.

LAUNCH SPEECH AS OBJECT: On Niall Lucy’s Pomo Oz: Fear and Loathing Downunder

John Kinsella

As subject, both as speaker responsible for the public presentation of a new work, an endgame in the mysterious but often exacting process of publication — and as point of reference as person and a creator of texts generally known as ‘poetry’ discussed in some detail within the work I am launching, and with pleasing empathy in the second part of this book, I feel privileged — and I use the word in a Derridean sense of privilege of speech and not metaphor — to be standing here, to be part of a spectacle whose evolution reaches back through the Enlightenment, finds some of its finest moments in a Chaser ‘fake motorcade at the APEC Summit’ in 2007, the prompt for this work in so many ways, and encompasses resistance to an increasingly deep-set status quo that is anti-ideas, anti-text, and generally fearful of truths whose existence it believes postmodernists deny.

In response to factors such as the bashing and brutality of the Howard years’ assault on critical thought, exemplified by that foolish exposition of emptiness, Kevin Donnelly’s Dumbing Down (launched by Howard) Niall Lucy claims that he is not necessarily a ‘postmodernist’ (though he might be), that a name is but a name, but that he is going to stand up to the plate (the American baseball allusion will be brought into focus, despite the firm anchoring of this book in Oz!), and take on those balls being hurled at critical thinking in schools and elsewhere. Cultural wars are religious wars, are crusades. Niall Lucy is writing against a New Crusade, and he is writing against cultural quarantine. He is writing for understanding and equality, for fairness. I have no scare quotes around any of this, which is really weird for me! The strangest subtextual thought I took from this book was that Howard’s Australia, and maybe ‘Rudd’s’ also, has no idea what ‘Australia’ is, even less so than Baz Luhrmann, who maybe knows a lot more than he’s letting on.

About time! I will say, as subject, personally, that I am unabashedly a ‘post-modernist’, and believe that to claim to be so is a claim to ‘truth’ and necessity. When I teach postmodernism, I usually start with a consideration of French Dandyism and 1830-50s France in particular; my journey takes me to Chicago and the architectural theories of Charles Jencks, with side tours via Thomas Pynchon and Language Poetry, ending with the attack on the ‘Twin Towers’. Behind all that is the ‘punch line’ of Niall’s contention that Derridean thought becomes not only blame but something akin to the ‘death of pleasure’ (please, critics of the postmodern, look to Baudrillard in the least here), ‘There is nothing outside the text.’ As Niall, with characteristic logic and efficiency, scythes his way through the inept thinking that allowed a generation of popular critics and educationalists to argue the ‘truth’ of the canonical and the denial of the need for truth in the ‘critical’, we become increasingly aware that communication of any event, however serious, can only be ‘textual’. Speaking of a letter by Artaud to Benjamin Crémieux, Derrida says:

Released from the text and the author-god, mise en scène would be returned to its creative and founding freedom. (Writing and Difference, Derrida, 237).

Considering an issue of surface, spectacle, and spectators, Derrida locates an entirety within and without text. For a student at high school — one fairly funded, say, rather than, as Niall notes, overprivileging private schools with public money, and creating disjunction — the sheer ability to value ideas expressed within the text as saying one thing and inevitably meaning another, is exciting. When Niall notes the university complaint that theory destroys ‘the pleasure of reading’ , then he laments that narrowness of a teaching that allows nothing in or out of the text, that truly there is nothing but the text in the literal sense. That the values of a piece of writing are intact and self-informing, that context is purely historical and localised. That how we read won’t alter those perceptions. But I am twisting Niall's words — he says this with so much more clarity. As subject I can illustrate by a couple of examples:

First: After 9/11 I told my American students that the destruction of the twin towers was the end of postmodernity as a functional critical application in America. The skyscraper undone, the skyscraper centring capitalism undone by ‘Holy War’ — a terminology that would suit the ‘attacked’ as much as the ‘attackers’. An Australian telling Americans. They weren’t sure where to position themselves. An ‘ally’, but a foreigner. This mattered to some in terms of what kind of ‘truths’ I could be uttering. Suddenly, this left-wing teacher was to be seen inverting a left-wingism. Postmodernism might be usefully right-wingism for some? If we start with architecture servicing the needs of capitalism (say, from 1972 per Jencks), if we start with the theories of postmodern architecture, are we always going to be looking to the right? I would clearly argue not (and did with my students), rather that postmodernism has become the resistance to that original perception of service to capitalism.

Some of my smartest students — the highest-achieving student graduated at the top of his year to leave to become a sanitary worker and showed me he’d learnt something — said, no, it wasn’t true that it would be the end of postmodernity in America. To explain: it is the consolidation of the postmodern. They will rebuild and the façades will be greater than ever. A Freedom Tower!? Indeed, and Ground Zero becomes a New Enlightenment, thoroughly Western in a way that would appal Derrida, and Chomsky. The point is that an anarchist such as myself can be ‘postmodern’ in worldview and practice (I see no choice), but so too can deeply conservative reinventors of the status quo who want to make the edifice greater than ever. They apply a kind of critical thinking that is the opposite to what I understand or take from the ‘event’, but in the end it is reduced to spectacle. It’s how we interpret that reduction that matters.[1]

Second: I studied at high school in Geraldton under a great postmodern teacher of literature — Bill Green. He let me run riot. Whether it was Blake or Tolkien, he encouraged the introduction of not only history but even chemistry theory into my final paper (which was, outlandishly, done on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings). I had, incidentally, bought the entire collection of Penguin ancient and English classics the year before, and read them from A to Z. I wasn’t lacking in the ‘classical’. Now, back then I was no pacifist, and Bill didn’t try to make me one, but critiquing war motifs in Lord of the Rings in the context of gender (go re-read Lord of the Rings) and racism (go re-read Lord of the Rings) took me from playing War Games to the streets. It needn’t have — he didn’t encourage that, in fact he was ‘neutral’ — I might just as easily have gone the Freedom Tower way. Point was, a critical faculty was engendered in me and I didn’t do what the author of the text intended or wanted or maybe just wondered I might do. For me, the author was dead. And I wanted to be one of those dead authors for whom text was the world, and the world was text because that’s the only way truth can be conveyed.

What I have said is at the basis of my friendship and admiration for Niall Lucy. His book is rigorous and yet highly readable. It’s also bloody funny at times and Miranda Devine and other such figures are played out in this new Dunciad Major. Don’t let the lines of exquisite prose fool you, this is a new type of writing, a poem-book that prize judges won’t know where to fit. But they should give it something to show that the old is confirmed in the new, whether they like it or not. In my favourite chapter, ‘Everybody Loves Raymond Williams’ (which I do because I am a pastoral guy who thinks big country houses hold most of the State’s evils) — Niall considers the fear of deconstruction in terms of a fear of a loss of authority on the part of the ‘Teacher’ (don’t worry, he’s firmly on their side) in terms of the State, and the university. He writes, with reference to Derrida, ‘Like the essence of a poem, the essence of the new international is that it doesn’t have one. Its limits, then, are indeterminate, approximating something like a positive form only in the conservative denunciation of whatever questions the authority of "proper" ways of thinking and the "proper" order of things.' Touché.

Harold Bloom says I can write canonical poems, I read canonical often realist literature, I believe in essences, I think metaphysics make for poor science but I love metaphysical poetry. I am a postmodernist. I am going to take Niall’s model and try to write an anti-pomo potboiler — it’s a good guide, he has read his dunces carefully and closely, and is too generous in his pisstake (to quote Marion May Campbell from the cover). Niall Lucy is the smartest bloke out there, and I hope he likes the book I am going to write as a result of thinking about the book he has written.

[1] I wish to prevent a possible confusion between motifs. (These comments should be taken in the context of a respectful acknowledgement of the many people who died in the destruction of the towers.) The Twin Towers were essentially modernist architecture — the new Freedom Tower will likely incorporate pomo architectural elements but not ultimately be double-coded in structure. But it will double-code in national and international meaning, as did the twin towers in their symbolism as target. I am not saying that the end of pomo was because the towers were pomo buildings, which was not the case (really), but rather, that the notion of the skyscraper that oversees the market (skyscrapers are panopticons that often obscure their own vantage points by being in each other’s eyelines, and by vying for space), looks out over the world in its modernist-capitalist certainty but dissembles in its electronic (networked, of course) sleight-of-hand, becomes double-coded and a symbol of corporate postmodernity. The irony being that postmodernity gave the critical tools to undo this reading and this function. Thus postmodernity has its own course, its own ‘mind’, becomes a set of organic critical tools (sure, gratefully co-opted by the left). These perceptions come out of my being a poet for whom poetry is a textual practice (poems as buildings, especially houses).


Thursday, February 25, 2010

In memory of Alison

By Tracy

This is a short quote to mark the passing of our loved friend Alison, who was a poetry-lover and did a dissertation on Wallace Stevens...

Farewell to an idea... The mother's face,
The purpose of the poem, fills the room.
They are together, here, and it is warm,

With none of the prescience of oncoming dreams.
It is evening. The house is evening, half dissolved.
Only the half they can never possess remains,

Still-starred. It is the mother they possess,
Who gives transparence to their present peace.
She makes that gentler that can gentle be.

[from Wallace Stevens, "The Auroras of Autumn"]


"Now he is gone..."

Posted by Tracy, for a friend who passed away this week.

Thomas Hardy, "Afterwards"

When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
'He was a man who used to notice such things'?

If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid's soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
'To him this must have been a familiar sight.'

If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, 'He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone.'

If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
'He was one who had an eye for such mysteries'?

And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell's boom,
'He hears it not now, but used to notice such things'?